Interviewer's Name: M. Scott Sosebee & Paul Sandul
Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted on June 17, 2011 in the home of Sharon and Sam Allison.
Context Notes: Interview and transcription completed in conjunction with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project at the home of Sharon Wilson and Sam Allison in Waco, Texas. At points throughout the recording you can hear wind chimes, something that sounds like a dishwasher, the telephone ringing, a dog's collar, and some sort of outdoor equipment, e.g., lawn mower and leaf blower.
Tapes and Interview Record: The original recordings of the interview and a full transcript are held by the East Texas Research Center, R. W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.
Transcription Notes: The policy of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project has been to eliminate false starts and crutch words from transcriptions when determined not to affect the meaning and flow of the spoken word. Obviously, and admittedly, this is a subjective endeavor and all care was taken to maintain the integrity of the interview.
The interviewers M. Scott Sosebee and Paul J. P. Sandul are identified as SOSEBEE and SANDUL, respectively. Sharon Wilson Allison is identified as SHARON and her husband Sam Allison is identified as SAM (first names were chosen because Sharon and Sam share the same last name).
SOSEBEE: We're here in Waco, Texas at the home of Sharon Wilson and Sam Allison with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project. It's June 17, 2011. I am Scott Sosebee [Assistant Professor of History at Stephen F. Austin State University]. Also present is Paul J. P. Sandul [Assistant Professor of History at Stephen F. Austin State University] who is here as technical advisor and also, of course, he's the coordinator of the project. As we continue on with this, our project, in the interview we'd like to do here with Ms. Wilson, the primary focus, say "Hi" to everybody I suppose, Ms. Wilson [laughter].
SOSEBEE: The primary focus of our interview with you, of course, is to reflect on the life and the career of your brother, former Texas legislator of U.S., congressman Charlie Wilson, but while we're here I don't think we should pass up the opportunity to record some of the highlights of your life because it's been quite remarkable in it's own right. So let's get this down, for example, I think you're very active in a number of organizations. Tell us some about your activism, things that you've been involved in on a national level.
SHARON: Well, I've been involved primarily on the national level in women's reproductive health issues and I started back after Sam and I moved to Waco in 1970. I was invited to become a member of the Junior League, which is a volunteer organization and a part of that was to go around Waco and visit every 501(c)(3) [nonprofit] organization and their CEOs would give us a dog and pony show. I was fascinated by Planned Parenthood and it struck a chord on a lot of levels with me and I'd never actually heard of it before, believe it or not but . . .
SOSEBEE: This was in what?
SHARON: And . . . I was a government major in college, and with emphasis on international studies, and Charlie's and my mother always told us to always take up the underdog. That was something [laughter] that made a huge impact on both of us always.
SOSEBEE: I'm sure.
SHARON: And, you know, it just struck a chord and so I got on a national, I mean, on a local level, I got really interested, and the more I got involved, and the more I learned, because I really didn't know much about the issue then, that was before the women's issues really took off. And it just seemed like a fit; everything that I was interested in. And Planned Parenthood had an international component then as part of the national organization. But as I got more involved I became chairman of the group here and then was in the southern region part of, administrative part as well, and then I was asked to come to the national board and, from there, I went to the international board. And, but it was all a synergy of the things that had been important to me growing up and seeing how women have control of their reproductive life made them have control of their lives.
SOSEBEE: Getting involved in 1970 was kind of an interesting year to get involved in such things. You got to see a lot evolve over the next, at least, decade, didn't you?
SHARON: I saw so much. And with Lyndon Johnson having been president since '63, the Great Society money was running down, so I was able to do a lot in that field that we haven't had since [laughter]. I mean, it's dwindled considerably. But it was a very exciting time and actually, you know, you think in 1973, that you've reached, you know, we can check this off our list, you know, check if off your list.
SHARON: You have the . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . because it's been-you had to diligently guard that ever since.
SHARON: Oh and the other side is chipping, you know, tries to chip constantly and try to think of new things to do and you just have to be ahead of the hands all the time. But if that's that you're talking about, but I've done some other things.
SOSEBEE: Elaborate on those.
SHARON: Well, I've been chairman of the Waco Foundation [supports nonprofits, community philanthropy, etc.], which I'm very interested in all of the things that help people that aren't as lucky as I am and that's just the easiest way to say it.
SOSEBEE: Okay, well, that's a good way. And . . . what do you think. Do you think Charlie's-obviously he was prominent, he was in electoral office while you were doing all of these things, and while you were involved in Planned Parenthood and getting involved, did his positions, political influence, do you think it helped or hindered your activism?
SHARON: It helped me. And he had been, you know, from East Texas and representing East Texas. My issues were very difficult for him, they were not popular [laughter].
SOSEBEE: Yeah, we'll talk about some of that later. Yeah.
SHARON: But we had a deal. Charlie always, this goes, Charlie and I really, he's nine, he was nine years my senior so we never did really get to know each other until when I was a freshman at Texas [University of Texas] because he went away to school when I was six.
SHARON: But when I was a freshman at Texas he was a freshman in the Legislature and a bachelor, and we double dated, and Sam and Charlie knew each other from the time, from the summer of 1961. . . . That's when we started dating.
SOSEBEE: So you [Sam] knew him for a long time as well?
SHARON: And they were extraordinarily close for brothers-in-law particularly. I mean they didn't cut either one any slack but [laughter], but anyway. I've lost my train of thought.
SOSEBEE: We were talking about his position.
SHARON: Oh, his position. But just an example is, one time, I was on his, we talked every day on the phone, which is kind of unusual for siblings.
SHARON: But one day I was really angry about his position on a bill on gun control in congress and he said, "We've got to talk and we'll make a deal." And I said, "I'm all ears!" And he said, "I won't walk away from any of your reproductive rights issues if you'll stay off of my case on gun control because if you don't I won't be there to help you on your issues" [laughter]. I mean, Charlie was a very practical politician so you might think that's interesting, I don't know.
SOSEBEE: Oh, I think it's very interesting and I want to elaborate on that later because I think you can give us some great insight into that political philosophy.
SHARON: But he was a huge asset to me because, particularly when I got really involved and was on the world board in countries, and Charlie was a real scholar when it came to, at least in my unbiased opinion [laughter], but he had such insights on our relationships with other countries from the State Department side and it was all very helpful.
SOSEBEE: I'm sure, yes.
SHARON: And then his vote was very helpful and it was very meaningful because he was the only person in Congress-I think I'm right on this as far as I know-he was the only person during those years, seventies and eighties and I guess early nineties, who was a Democrat who wasn't from a city who voted pro-choice.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: I believe that's right.
SOSEBEE: That's astonishing to me.
SHARON: Maybe the other caveat to that is, maybe, non-African American.
SOSEBEE: Yes that could be.
SHARON: But I think most of that is most African Americans were from cities, a few of them . . . well this was nation-wide, not just the Texas delegation, and you could-you have the way to check me on that.
SOSEBEE: Although even, yes. But even, you know . . . and the Texas delegation, even, many . . . yes, okay. And African Americans.
SANDUL: Well even if there was another he would then be a member of a very small club.
SOSEBEE: That's right.
SHARON: But that was something that I was very proud of, and he was proud of it too. And he never walked away from Civil Rights vote. I know y'all know that.
SOSEBEE: That's another thing that we'll elaborate on.
SHARON: They're kind of two side of the same coin.
SHARON: When you get back down to how people think and what they believe.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. Let's shift gears just a little bit here before I forget, okay. Because I want to make sure we get this in because we've spoken with a number of people who knew Charlie as an adult and as a politician, but you knew him growing up in the house with him.
SHARON: Oh yeah.
SOSEBEE: You knew him when he was a child, although you said there is nine years difference, at least as a teenager and as a young adult, that's the perspective that I want to know, some of the personal things. So first, tell us some about you and Charlie's life growing up in East Texas.
SOSEBEE: What were those days like?
SHARON: Well course I didn't know anything else and I thought it was pretty cool [laughter]. But we were from Trinity as you know, and which was a, I guess not a typical of small East Texas towns and very small.
SOSEBEE: Oh yeah.
SHARON: Between 2,000 and 2,500 people when we were growing up. Everybody knew everybody. We had extraordinary parents, in my unbiased opinion, one was a Democrat; one was a Republican.
SOSEBEE: Is that right? I didn't know that either.
SHARON: Daddy was kind of, he wasn't real active, but he was, I remember sitting at the table one time when I was-and Charlie wasn't there, just the three of us-and I remember mother had on a "Glad for Adlai" [Adlai Stevenson, Democratic presidential nominee] button and daddy had on an "I Like Ike" button [1956; Dwight D. Eisenhower] and it was like being at a tennis match [laughter].
SOSEBEE: Wonder if he was influenced. You know, there was the whole thing, you know, some of the Texas Democrats at the time were going for Eisenhower, you know . . .
SHARON: I don't. Daddy wasn't particularly politically active until Charlie ran for the legislature.
SOSEBEE: Is that right? So your family wasn't really a political one?
SHARON: No. Where they were political was in the Methodist Church.
SAM: Louis was political.
SHARON: Well mother was. Well she was for Adlai Stevenson and all of that but I mean, not like they were after Charlie got in politics, but mother was . . .
SOSEBEE: So where did Charlie get his earliest political influences? Was it from your mother?
SHARON: Probably; and from the Methodist Church. And, as he says, you all know the story of his dog and Mr. Hazard feeding him glass.
SHARON: That's when Charlie said that he knew that one person could make a difference.
SOSEBEE: Yes. That's a heck of a story too.
SHARON: And that was a huge thing in our family, that dog, and I wasn't even around then but it was a story that, I mean it affected everybody.
SOSEBEE: Well that's a, you know . . .
SHARON: And we lived down the street from Mr. Hazard [laughter] . . .
SOSEBEE: Well nothing will get you passionate about anything other than your animals . . .
SHARON: That's right.
SOSEBEE: Like this. Well life. Tell us, give us a, although you're younger but you have the same things, life in East Texas in general, just give us an idea, you know, not just political, you know, what were people like? What was the economic situation? What's going on?
SHARON: You know, we did not grow up with great means by any means but we were, as far as I knew, we were just fine, we never missed any meals and it was a different time, there wasn't all the emphasis on . . . things, I don't think. Or at least I didn't feel it.
SOSEBEE: Much less materialistic and . . .
SHARON: Much less materialistic and mother was a florist, I don't know if you knew that, and daddy was an accountant. Daddy was a jack of all trades; he did whatever he needed to do to make a living. He was an accountant, he had a pulpwood contracting business, he was the tax assessor/collector . . .
SOSEBEE: Oh, he did all that?
SHARON: Anything else?
SAM: Fisherman extraordinaire [laughter].
SOSEBEE: Fisherman extraordinaire.
SHARON: And then my dad and my, as Charlie could have cared less about fishing, totally cared less about it.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: And I loved it and I went fishing with my daddy every spring, every afternoon [laughter]. He'd pick me up from school, you know, once April fifteenth was over and he had the accounting stuff done and we'd go fishing. And one of, and daddy, little towns, people trusted each other and knew each other or they didn't [laughter].
SOSEBEE: One or the other.
SHARON: You had a good reputation or you didn't, and mother and daddy had an excellent reputation, which they deserved. But daddy carried, Sam always got a big kick out of daddy's key ring, he had a key ring like this [motions a very large circle the size of a grapefruit] and he carried it in his pocket and it had the key to everybody's property that had a little pond or a lake on it and he had permission and we'd decide where we'd want to go fishing. Which is kind of an unusual . . .
SOSEBEE: Yeah but then . . .
SHARON: But when you say think about something about my childhood in East Texas.
SOSEBEE: No, I think that's significant and that tells a lot, that tells us a lot.
SHARON: And I think a lot about when the peas came in and the [laughter] okra.
SOSEBEE: So it was still . . .
SHARON: All the East Texas food that we still love. Sam and I had to be in Houston this week and came back through, and stopped at the farmer's market and cleaned up, all those East Texas things [laughter].
SOSEBEE: I love, I can't pass a farmer's market, you know, I have to stop when I see one.
SOSEBEE: So it's still very rural, very southern.
SOSEBEE: Uh, lifestyle?
SHARON: And mother preferred . . . we always, she, as I said, had a flower shop, so we always had household help. I loved reading the book The Help [2009 novel by Kathryn Stocket concerning Black maids in the South], it brought, it's very, there's a lot more to it than you think when you open the cover.
SANDUL: Actually I'm probably going to use that in my history survey class as a way to really get kids to understand, because it's so powerful.
SHARON: I mean, down to the bathroom in the garage, I mean, it was, it was so right.
SHARON: And I could really identify with the woman who was the person writing the history.
SHARON: Because I think she was conflicted in a lot of ways that I was because here I was with my mother, "always be for the underdog," and then I'd look around and there wasn't equality there.
SOSEBEE: I had, you know, just personal thing, same thing, but we did have someone who came and cleaned once a week, but I remember that, it was my mother, it was almost like, I don't want anybody to know that that's what they're here to do, you know, and it was this, I always felt, and I don't know if it was growing, it had to be something I got from a, I felt like I ought to help them, it was not, something there . . .
SHARON: Yes, yes, yes.
SOSEBEE: It wasn't right, some way for them to be there doing that. I don't know why, but that's a, you know, but it still comes that way. Well how was Charlie as a brother?
SHARON: Perfect [laughter]. I idolized him according to my parents. That was the first word I said, was "Charles." But mother called him Charles. We lived in a different house from the time I was five on until mother and daddy died. But when I was little, all, both places I mean, children just went outside and played, people weren't frantic about it, nobody else wanted them [laughter]. They went out and they just kind of roamed the neighborhood and at meal time mother would go to the door and scream "Charles, Charles," and so I stood up in my crib, and "Charles, Charles," [laughter]. And so that's a family story. But anyway . . .
SAM: Tell them about "Little Charles."
SHARON: She called him "Little Charles" a lot too.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: Daddy was Charles, daddy was about five [feet] ten [inches tall] and Charlie was six.
SOSEBEE: That's what I was trying to envision, calling him "Little Charles" after he reached full height.
SHARON: But he was "Little Charles" to everybody in Trinity.
SOSEBEE: That is just . . .
SHARON: But he loved it, he loved it.
SOSEBEE: I bet he did.
SHARON: He loved it. But anyway, Little Charles and Charles. I just thought that anything that he did was the berries and, of course, I drove him absolutely nuts, thought anything in his room was so interesting and went through his things, peeked in the window [laughter]. I had a little stool and I put it outside his window so I could see what was going on.
SOSEBEE: See what was going on. Did he have a mischievous side even when he was young?
SHARON: Oh my stars [laughter]. Yeah, I think, and see I was kind of a, I couldn't figure. I remember he got in trouble one time for doing something in the band and I've forgotten what it was. He was in the band, he played the trumpet. Did you know that?
SOSEBEE: Yes, I've read that.
SHARON: He was in the high school band. I, if you all will come back I can probably find a bunch of pictures.
SOSEBEE: Okay. No, we will.
SHARON: But, I gave, in fact, well, I know I've got a lot of pictures, maybe even some in his band uniform. But, yeah, he got in trouble at school.
SOSEBEE: So there was a little bit of that at that there . . .
SHARON: And I think he probably, I've heard, and I can't verify this, but I've heard he had more demerits at Annapolis than anybody that ever graduated.
SOSEBEE: I've heard that too, I mean, you know they . . .
SHARON: I don't know if that's . . .
SOSEBEE: They closely guard those things so you don't know.
SAM: He was proud of it.
SHARON: He was proud of that and I don't know if it's urban legend or not.
SOSEBEE: I just wondered because I know, you think, he said that. I think I've seen an interview that he said that and I always wondered, is that just kind of this embellishing this image that he might have wanted to cultivate . . .
SHARON: No. I think it was, it in fact, this year in spring break, we had our kids, grandchildren were down in Belize, and I wasn't down at the swimming pool that day but our daughter and son-in-law and kids were down there and they talked to this man from California who had be in, at Annapolis with Charlie. And, I mean, they just, it was a father and a grandfather and they'd both gone to Annapolis. And Kurt, our son-in-law, just said, "I ask them if happened to know Charlie," and the grandfather said, "Oh my goodness! Of course we knew Charlie!" [laughter]. And he told him this story I can't even remember what it was, but how he had a party room down under Bancroft Hall somewhere [laughter.] If the Navy had ever find him . . .
SOSEBEE: Well you know, that said and all, I mean, and everybody though that you ever speak of and everyone that we've ever talked to about Charlie always, one of the first things we say, is how bright he was.
SHARON: How he was?
SOSEBEE: How bright he was. Just how . . .
SHARON: Oh, he was. But he wasn't a student and nor was I [laughter].
SOSEBEE: Well that's what I was going to say. And he did find some success at Annapolis, but; so he wasn't always a good student actually?
SHARON: He was a terrible student.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: I mean, it was always, every semester, it was always, "Are we going to go back another semester?" [Laughter.] Kind of. I mean, he hated what he had to take, all of these Science courses and Engineering courses, which can you imagine?
SOSEBEE: I can't imagine me taking them [Sosebee laughs].
SHARON: But you can imagine Charlie taking them? And that's what, and Calculus and all that stuff. I tell you somebody, you all, if you want an insight into Charlie in his Annapolis years and his early years in Congress is; has anybody given you Gene Woodruff's name?
SOSEBEE: No. Gene Woodruff.
SHARON: He was Charlie's dearest friend all of that time.
SOSEBEE: Okay do you know where he lives?
SHARON: I know exactly. He was the chairman of the Graduate School at the University of Washington. He's a nuclear engineer.
SOSEBEE: So Seattle?
SHARON: So he actually lives on . . .
SOSEBEE: That'd be a nice trip Paul [Sandul].
SHARON: Yeah. He lives on . . . and you can tell him, we're still friends.
SHARON: Camino Island is where he's, he's retired now.
SHARON: And he and his wife live out there, but last time we heard from them he said that they were going to sell their house because their kids all live in Oregon.
SAM: That was Christmas wasn't it?
SHARON: But anyway, he and Charlie have more stories together [laughter]. And he was the one who got Charlie through Annapolis.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: All of this stuff was just really easy to him and he used to come home and visit, he was from a place in Arkansas, I'll think of it in a minute, little bitty town like Trinity in Arkansas. And they, one summer when they went on summer cruises that they did every summer at Annapolis, to you know, have some active Navy time . . .
SOSEBEE: Yes, yes.
SHARON: . . . actually being on a ship, that's when he and Gene met. They were in different companies, but they just became the best friends and Gene said Charlie made him a liberal [laughter]. I mean, I don't think it was particularly, I may be wrong, but that also he introduced him to Frank Sinatra and . . .
SOSEBEE: There you go . . .
SHARON: That's pretty important [Sharon Allison laughs].
SOSEBEE: That's pretty good, that just . . .
SHARON: I mean Gene . . . you would love him.
SOSEBEE: Well we'll have to talk to him. We'll have to speak with him.
SHARON: He is a delightful guy. One of the smartest people I've ever known in my life.
SOSEBEE: Well tell us about Charlie in his Naval career. Why the Navy?
SHARON: Well, he went to Annapolis.
SOSEBEE: Was it something that he'd always wanted to do?
SHARON: No. I don't think so. I think daddy wanted him to go to Annapolis.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: And daddy knew; now I said daddy wasn't real active in politics. I'm trying to think of who our congressman was then, but he did, daddy asked if Charlie could get an appointment to Annapolis to whoever, but he wasn't active in campaigns or anything. But Charlie did get the appointment, he had to, has anybody told you the banana story?
SHARON: Well, Charlie was this tall, skinny guy and you had to weigh a certain amount for your height and Charlie wasn't anywhere near that. And the night before he had to go for the physical he ate a stalk of bananas and drank a gallon of water [laughter] so he'd weigh; and he got in like half a pound over what he had to do. So that kind of tells you he did what you have to do. To do something and get it done and he'd do enough to pass the test so he could come back next semester even though it wasn't anything he was interested in, that's my take on it.
SOSEBEE: So this was, I mean, it was your father's ambition for him to go into the Navy.
SHARON: I think he thought it would be a good idea for him to go to Annapolis. Charlie loved the Navy. He loved the Navy. And I don't know if anybody's told you this but one of his officers, he was gunnery officer on the John W. Weeks [named for Representative and later Secretary of War John W. Weeks, ship served time in the Pacific in WWII], and his commanding officer said Charlie was the best officer he'd ever commanded on a ship and the worst when in port [laughter].
SOSEBEE: Well, I guess you could take that a lot of ways couldn't you.
SHARON: [Sharon Allison laughs] I think it was a discipline problem even after he was an officer in the Navy.
SOSEBEE: Do you think he ever considered a long, complete career in the Navy?
SHARON: I don't know. If he did, I don't know it. I know when he got interested in really running himself was in 19--, and we talked, and you know I told you we've always been in close contact. We were both volunteers, I was a . . . we were both volunteers in the Kennedy campaign and he-that's when he decided he really wanted to run for office. He got really enamored with that and he and Gene Woodruff-Gene was in Washington too-after Charlie got off of the John W. Weeks he was in the Intelligence Department at the Pentagon, I'm sure ya'll know that.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, sure. Do you think his military career . . . how did that shape his political philosophy?
SHARON: Well, he was so committed to our armed forces, which he might not have been otherwise. He might not have had the insight to be so committed to veterans. And, so, Charlie loved history, as y'all know, and he loved-our son and Charlie used to argue about naval history, and all kinds, [Sosebee laughs] young Sam [Sharon's son]; Sam was a history major too. He sometimes would be right, especially when it came to the Pacific War or World War II.
SHARON: Little things and how many were killed and who was flying what.
SOSEBEE: [Sosebee laughs] All those really important things.
SHARON: But it was really interesting. But, I think, it definitely had an effect on what he was interested in and you can look at his library and see all of the military history books and . . .
SOSEBEE: Is that right? So that was . . .
SHARON: And he was a Church--, he was a . . . Charlie; Churchill was his idol I think.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: And he has more Churchill books . . .
SOSEBEE: That's interesting to know, Churchill being, because that's . . .
SHARON: He quoted him a lot.
SOSEBEE: Is that right? Because that's, you know, Churchill has some interesting ideas particularly in the . . . I just wonder, because he-Charlie does become such a committed Cold War hero-I just wonder if the Churchill influence . . .
SHARON: Oh I'm sure; don't you think Sam?
SAM: Absolutely, and also, one effect the Navy, an obvious effect the Navy had on him, I think, is his room where he was staying was always in perfect order; socks where they're supposed to be.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SAM: Yes. Everything.
SHARON: Everything folded because it had to be that way at Annapolis, you know, they did the white glove.
SOSEBEE: For someone who spent a lot of time-what a bachelor-that's pretty shocking.
SHARON: Oh he was, yeah [Sosebee laughs].
SOSEBEE: That was something that he probably wouldn't notice, you would notice, well you would notice, it would be so . . .
SHARON: I know he never; my desk, it's embarrassing.
SOSEBEE: Well, mine too.
SHARON: And Charlie's never had a piece of scratch paper on it [Sosebee laughs] and I don't know how he did anything. Write himself notes; where they go I don't know. But he was very, very orderly. Sam's right about him. And Sam has a lot of insight into Charlie
SOSEBEE: Well one of these day's we'll probably have to come back and just do Sam one of these days . . . So. One of the most amazing things I've always felt about Charlie, this is after he starts his political career, and I'm going to choose my words very carefully here, is the deft ways he maneuvered around, I mean he's the, he's the legislator and the congressman from deep East Texas.
SHARON: Uh-huh, he loved that.
SOSEBEE: The way he maneuvered around the issue of race and civil rights. I mean he was always a supporter of civil rights, while he's representing a district that, I mean, let's just be brutally honest here, was not exactly enamored with the concept of racial equality. Yet, somehow, he made it work and I've asked everybody that knew him this, and everybody in his political, because he made this work. Was there something in his life, as a child, as a young adult, or anything that helped him do that? Because, I mean, most politicians couldn't do that.
SHARON: It was the way we were raised. Our mother . . .
SOSEBEE: But he was able to . . . what's amazing to me is that this is a district that . . . I think maybe somebody else, if they had the same position, they'd have turned him out of office just like that. But they kept electing him. Even though he took this position and was probably against the majority opinion of his district.
SHARON: But Charlie never made any bones about it, he'd just be very open and say it's the right thing to do.
SOSEBEE: So it's just the honesty. That's what . . .
SHARON: Charlie is . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . Peyton Walters told me, that's what Charles Schnabel told; it was just he was honest about it.
SHARON: He was. And he was honest about, once he, you know he didn't, neither one of us grew up thinking about reproductive rights a whole lot. But once . . . after many, many conversations, Charlie got it and he said, "Well you're doing the right thing, it's the right thing to do. Women, I mean reproductive rights, are human rights." And, I mean, that was it. Once something was right to Charlie, even though I couldn't get him there on gun control [Sharon Allison laughs]; but when you're from East Texas there are . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . yeah, there are barriers and there are places that you can't go . . .
SHARON: . . . and . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . but this would have been one of those almost . . .
SHARON: . . . well . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . and I know he was raised that way. I'm kind of interested in how, you know, it's maybe I'm trying to make it more complex than it is how his, he kept the constituency . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . accepted that . . .
SHARON: Well, I don't know, his constituents, I mean, you have to remember from a political standpoint too that he had all the black vote and it's significant.
SOSEBEE: That's true . . .
SHARON: And so people, I think, people understand that that's where a lot of his support was coming from, so what would they expect him to do? I mean, and I don't, I think, I haven't had this exact conversation with Charlie because it didn't surprise me any, but I mean it wasn't something I quizzed him about, but I just would think that it's almost a, you know, if everyone's voting for me, then . . .
SOSEBEE: Well, it's just, I mean, there were other . . .
SHARON: I support their issues and . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . and I'm thinking of . . .
SHARON: . . . and maybe, think of the timing too with L. B. J.
SOSEBEE: Well, that's true, and he's a little later than some of them . . .
SHARON: . . . and it, I mean, people were becoming aware. And it was becoming a little politically incorrect, and people started being more careful about their language and all of those things, that my . . .
SOSEBEE: Okay, well no, I think that's a . . .
SHARON: Does that make sense?
SOSEBEE: Yeah, that makes perfect sense and like I say . . .
SHARON: It was the timing.
SOSEBEE: I may be making it more complex than it is.
SHARON: A lot of it was the timing.
SAM: There's another side to that too. And that was just his campaign slogan on everything, was "Taking Care of the Home Folks."
SHARON: And they were the homefolks.
SAM: And . . .
SHARON: And they are the homefolks.
SAM: . . . and his staff; he had a staff that all they did was take care of the homefolks. And we had a-I leased it to him through a congressional lease-a motor home that they scheduled . . .
SOSEBEE: I didn't know that, the motor home, I heard the story.
SOSEBEE: You leased it? Oh, okay.
SAM: Yeah. And it lost, lost [Sharon Allison laughs] . . . yeah, but anyway.
SOSEBEE: Of course.
SHARON: [Laughter] It was not a money making deal.
SOSEBEE: It's family.
SHARON: That's alright.
SAM: And they scheduled every month where they were going to be with that, and they posted it at the courthouses and people would be lined up when the pine tree pulled up and his staff would say, you know, they'd have social security questions, they'd have voting questions, they'd have questions, and they would write them all down, they'd take care of them and get back to them.
SOSEBEE: That's why I've said . . . you know, and I've heard those stories. And we've talked to people who, you know, were in his district that he helped them. And we talk, and that's one of those things they told me. He's one of the last ones who really understood that's what a congressman's main job is, and they don't do that as much anymore.
SHARON: And that's, that's mother . . .
SAM: Tell them about the . . .
SHARON: Jerriwell Becky?
SHARON: Okay I will.
SAM: Yeah that's a good example too.
SHARON: Before I lose this thought, I will, that's a good point. Mother and daddy were both people who were problem solvers. And I'm not talking about big national problems, I'm talking about problem solvers [Sharon Allison laughs]. And if somebody needed something in Waco or somebody had a big problem, they'd always find the right person to help them or they'd help them themselves. And I'm not talking about monetarily. I'm just talking about if they needed an introduction or something like that. And Charlie and I both grew up like that and we both kind of, to a degree, have that, that trait. And so that might be a part of your answer. This is a good example of Charlie helping people and also his love for heroes and the military. I have a friend here whose husband had some sort of very rare genetic lung disorder and something that comes on when people are about fifty or in their forties. And his mother died of it and his brother died of it and Jerry contracted it. I was visiting with a mutual friend one day and she said, "Do you know about Jerriwell Becky?" And I said, "No." And she said, "Well, he's dying." And I said, "dying?" And said "Yes, he has this disease." Which I didn't know anything about and the only thing that could help him would be a lung transplant. And I said, "Well, isn't he a veteran?" And she said, "Oh, yes, he's a veteran, but Marvin Leath" [Democrat - State Representative 1979-1991]; who was our congressman at the time, who was a good guy, I'm not denigrating Marvin, but, just to show you the difference in Charlie and other congressmen, Marvin was his congressman and said, "Oh, I'm sorry, there's not a thing in the world I can do about that." And the veterans hospital in San Antonio, which is where they do the-or at that point in time-did the transplants, you had to put up a hundred thousand dollars in advance and these people didn't have a hundred thousand dollars.
SHARON: And so he was just going to die and I didn't know anything about his military record-not that that should make any difference-but, anyway, I knew he had one and I told Charlie about that and I said, "Is this right for a veteran?" I said, "I see how much money this military wastes [Sharon Allison chuckles] all the time.
SOSEBEE: No kidding.
SHARON: And I said, "I don't get this." And he said, "Well, I've got to have some more information." Well, I called Mary Jane first and I said, "I don't want to be a meddler but this sounds like something, there might be a chance of getting some help for Jerry. But I don't want to do it without your permission and your okay." She said, "Oh, my goodness, that would be just wonderful!"
SOSEBEE: Yeah, sure.
SHARON: Charlie put one of his staff people on it. Now this is not a constituent of his after; he found out that this guy had done more, I don't know military jargon, sorties? Is that flying over machine . . .
SOSEBEE: That's flying over enemy territory.
SHARON: In, in . . .
SHARON: Korea; than any other pilot.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: Well, Charlie put one of his people on it and by golly he got a lung transplant and lived another fifteen years. And you can talk to his wife if you'd like [Sharon Allison laughs]; she was at the memorial service.
SOSEBEE: Oh man, there you go, that's, yeah.
SHARON: He's dead now but he died of cancer later but he lived fifteen years and they had fifteen good years and . . .
SOSEBEE: Well that's great, that's . . .
SHARON: But that's an example. Charlie was a problem solver.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, and that's the thing . . .
SHARON: And it's something that would turn, I mean, something that would get his attention and he was very empathetic, Charlie was a very kind person. Lot of people didn't see that.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, you know . . .
SHARON: I mean, he was all bravado and larger than life . . .
SOSEBEE: I hate to use this term, but I think because of the book and the movie . . .
SHARON: . . . and the girls.
SOSEBEE: And the girls.
SHARON: I mean he had a fun time, he had a good time, Charlie.
SOSEBEE: Sometimes he's come across as a caricature almost?
SHARON: Yeah, yeah . . . I have a very thick skin; don't worry about choosing your words.
SOSEBEE: Which is why the more I learn about him the more I know that's not the case. That this was someone, first off . . .
SHARON: No, he had a heart of gold.
SOSEBEE: First off, not only did he take his job as a congressman seriously.
SHARON: Oh yeah.
SOSEBEE: It was also obvious he enjoyed it. This is really what he wanted to do.
SHARON: He enjoyed it and there was a lot of it he thought was just ridiculous. And he didn't, I mean, he didn't do a lot of things that he could have done with the pomp and circumstance around Washington . . . . One time, I said, "Aren't you going to the State of the Union message?" He said, "Why would I want to go?" I mean, the speech, he said, "I don't care them zeroing in on me on TV, I'll read it all tomorrow, that's not the kind of thing I . . . that bored me to tears."
SOSEBEE: Who was it that told us; I believe Charles Schnabel told me somewhat of the same story, maybe not the same one, it was a State of the Union address . . .
SHARON: Oh no, he just . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . and he was supposed to go and he was actually even dressing to get ready and he just said, "I don't want to go to this thing" and he called Charles and said, "Let's go get dinner, I don't want to go to this thing, I really don't." And so he didn't go.
SOSEBEE: And he said that things like that [happened] quite often.
SHARON: He did. He was really . . . I don't think he missed committee meetings if he was in town, [if] he wasn't in Afghanistan [Sharon Allison laughs].
SOSEBEE: Also but that's . . .
SHARON: But that was part of his job. But, I mean, he did, I think he did a good job of his; I know he did a good job.
SOSEBEE: He liked the nuts and bolts of being a congressman.
SHARON: Yeah, but the pomp and circumstance, however, well, we'll get on to whatever [Sosebee laughs]. Of course he liked a little of it; he was human.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, well, and that kind of brings up, I don't know how long it will take us to get to lunch.
SHARON: We could . . . oh about five minutes, so.
SOSEBEE: Okay, so we can go a bit longer; real quick.
SHARON: Yeah, I was thinking real quick.
SOSEBEE: His political ideas and this-and we can also go with this longer after we eat-I mean, I said he's often referred to as "The liberal from Lufkin." That was kind of this moniker he got. When I talked to Charles Schnabel, I've talked to Peyton Walters, I've talked to other people on his staff, Peyton not as much as Charles, said both, to some extent, both told me, and I'm kind of paraphrasing them, that while Charlie may have had some liberal positions, to actually call him a liberal was perhaps too broad of a term.
SHARON: I agree with that. He was liberal on social issues that we've talked about, but he was, fiscally, fairly conservative, not with his own money [laughter] but with the government's money, to a degree. I mean he understood that you; does that make sense Sam?
SHARON: Sam had talked those issues with him more than I did.
SOSEBEE: Sam . . . what do you, I mean, what do you think Sam? Do you think that this was, I mean, that moniker was given to him by someone.
SAM: I think for Texas, at the time, particularly East Texas at the time, he was a liberal. But he was conservative on a lot of issues and the military was just untouchable.
SHARON: Yeah, that doesn't go along with being a liberal to me.
SAM: That really doesn't always, then, and Charlie had, he had empathy for people. And like Sharon just pointed out a minute ago about Jerriwell Becky, Charlie got nothing out of that.
SAM: And he never said a word about it.
SAM: He just did it and he did a lot of things like that.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, I wonder how many are . . .
SAM: That's right.
SOSEBEE: . . . how many Jerriwell Beckys there are.
SHARON: I don't know.
SOSEBEE: You know.
SHARON: I mean Charlie, and Charlie was always the most loyal friend, no matter what happened to people.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. But he did, and that was just, I mean, this is a man and I guess it kind of goes, this is kind of like the same thing just talking about the race, he navigated this factional minefield pretty well.
SAM: He did.
SOSEBEE: You know, I mean, he was a Texas legislator, particularly when there was a lot of factionalism going on in the Texas Democratic Party, when conservatives, so-called conservatives and liberals were fighting each other tooth and nail and when you look and stuff, but he was on both sides.
SHARON: And all of them liked him. All of them liked him.
SOSEBEE: Was it just personal charisma?
SHARON: I think that had a lot to do with it. And, always, Charlie showed people respect even, you know, there's a lot of name calling in congress now, which, as Sam says one time, I can't say this on tape [Sharon Allison laughs].
SOSEBEE: We'll edit it out.
SANDUL: I can place restrictions, I can edit it out.
SOSEBEE: We'll edit it out [Sosebee laughs].
SANDUL: Whatever you want . . .
SHARON: The gist of it is if you call people names, you've stopped communicating.
SHARON: Is the gist of it.
SOSEBEE: You're right.
SHARON: And Charlie didn't do that and he always listened to people and he'd say, "Well, I have a different position but I respect your right to have your position." And that kind of thing.
SOSEBEE: Why do you think he decided to end his career? I mean, health issues were some of it I'm sure. You don't think that's what it was?
SHARON: I don't know.
SOSEBEE: Why did he decide . . .
SHARON: I think a lot of it was Texas turning so red [Republican] and it getting to be so unpleasant. And those races against Donna Peterson were brutal. [Donna Peterson, a very conservative woman from Orange, who was in her early thirties, first ran against Wilson in 1990, the first of three contests that were noted for their high-level intensity.]
SOSEBEE: Uh-huh, they were brutal.
SHARON: With Karl Rove* running them. And they were mean and, I mean, that's not who Charlie Wilson [was], he hated doing it. I mean he could do it, obviously [Sharon Allison laughs] and get in there. And, he also told me that he absolutely could not stand the thought of getting up and having to ask his friends and family for money to run again. [*Karl Rove is a Republican political consultant and strategist. He is most notably credited with the 1994 and 1998 Texas gubernatorial victories of George W. Bush, as well as Bush's 2000 and 2004 successful presidential campaigns. Indeed, in his 2004 victory speech, Bush referred to Rove as "the Architect." Rove has also been credited for the successful campaigns of former Attorney General John Ashcroft (1994 U.S. Senate election), Texas Governor Bill Clements (1986 Texas gubernatorial election), Senator John Cornyn (2002 U.S. Senate election), Texas Governor Rick Perry (1990 Texas Agriculture Commission election), and Phil Gramm (1982 U.S. House and 1984 U.S. Senate elections). Rove also served as senior adviser and Deputy Chief of Staff for President George W. Bush. It is likely that Charlie Wilson was the last, and one of the few ever, to defeat a Rove-backed candidate.]
SOSEBEE: So it was the money. You were shaking your head, is that, you think, the same thing? That's . . .
SHARON: He got so tired of fundraising and that's one of the flaws with our system; is the constant fundraising that, I mean, with the money that people spend on political campaigns now a congressman running every two years can never stop raising money and if they're, don't think they have a foe, then it's because they've built their [unintelligible] well.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, yeah. So he was just tired of the whole situation.
SHARON: He was tired of that.
SAM: Well, he had wanted to retire a session or two before he did.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SAM: But he didn't want the right wing to think that they'd run him out.
SHARON: That Donna Peterson had run him out.
SAM: He was going to quit on his terms not theirs.
SOSEBEE: I've thought about going and talking to her but I don't know whether [I could] sink to that level [Sosebee laughs]. You know, she's still around?
SHARON: I have no idea.
SOSEBEE: She's still around.
SHARON: Is she?
SOSEBEE: Yeah. She's still a bit of an agitator.
SAM: She got off of the murder charge didn't she?* [*Actually, Donna Petersen's husband, millionaire Absalom T. Webber, Jr. (founder of Webber Steel, Inc. and Webber Investments), 67-years old (Petersen was 37-years old at the time), died from what police said was a suicide on December 5, 1997 in Galveston. The media attention came from Petersen's claims that the millionaire left her four million of his ten million dollar estate. Clouding the case was accusations of an extramarital affair, on her part, and the relative brevity of the couple's marriage, 98 days before he died and, to complicate it all further, less than a month after he filed for a divorce (which Petersen contests he never really meant). It was settled out of court. See, "Lawyer says answering machine tapes indicate millionaire changed mind about divorce," Abilene Reporter-News, March 27, 1998; and "Settlement ends legal battle for tycoon's $10 million estate," Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, July 15, 1999.]
SOSEBEE: Yeah she did, which if you read the transcripts she did [Sosebee laughs] and I guess, what would, what do you think . . .
SHARON: I hadn't met her, I don't know . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . this is just kind of, you know, I don't know, what would you, knowing that, and you know that is, when we got to this, you know, right before his death, did he make comments on the current state of the congress and the politics?
SHARON: [Loud sigh] Well, I mean, we talked about it all the time [Sharon Allison laughs]. So, I don't know that he made anything that broad, but he really, really didn't like [Republican Speaker of the House] Newt Gingrich*, his style [Sharon Allison laughs] . . . that's when Charlie too told me that that's when he decided that it was time for him to get out. He said up until-and the example I can think of that he used was, "You know, we've always been like a bunch of lawyers that can argue a case in court and then can go have a drink or go to lunch." He said, "since Newt Gingrich has come [into power as the Speaker of the House; starting in 1995], the Republicans don't speak in the elevator." You know. They have all those members-only elevators, and that they get on when there's a vote because they've got so many minutes to get on the floor to get there. [*Newt Gingrich (Newton Leroy Gingrich; born June 17, 1943, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) is an American politician who notably served as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (1995-99); the first Republican to hold the office in 40 years. He served as a Congressman from Georgia for twenty years, from 1979-1999, when he resigned. He later unsuccessfully sought the Republican Party's nomination for president in 2012.]
SHARON: And so they have these elevators that are just for members during, when the red light's blinking, and he said, "If they're, everybody just looks like a constipated monk." That was his word [laughter].
SHARON: Well that's a description for you. It may be very apropos.
SHARON: And, he said, "I would get up"-he had this fabulous apartment that overlooked . . . he bought before the building was even built, that it was, I mean, it was fabulous because of the view and it looked right down the mall to the capital.
SOSEBEE: Oh wow.
SHARON: And he said, "I would get up in the morning and looked down there and think, I don't want to go to work this morning."
SOSEBEE: Oh wow.
SHARON: "I just don't want to go down there, it is so unpleasant."
SOSEBEE: Oh wow, well yeah, that'd be enough to make anybody . . .
SHARON: And so that's all I can tell you; that's all I can tell you about that was really; and that was how many years? When did Newt go?
SHARON: He was there four years I guess before Charlie; Charlie didn't run in '96
SOSEBEE: '94, and then I guess it was, Gingrich; do you remember [Paul] Sandul? Did they finally get rid of him in '98, or was . . . yeah '98 . . .
SAM: He came in . . .
SHARON: He came, like, '92.
SOSEBEE: Came in '94, or Gingrich, or '94 was when he became speaker.
SANDUL: Gingrich revolution is '94. [*The Republican Revolution of 1994, sometimes referred to as the Gingrich Revolution, refers to Republican Party success in the 1994 midterm elections. Republicans gained 54 new seats in the House and 8 in the Senate. Gingrich, who became Speaker of the House at this point, was considered the leader of the so-called revolution. Large Republican gains were made in state houses too as Republicans also won 12 gubernatorial seats and 472 legislative seats, taking control of 20 state legislatures away from Democrats. Prior to this, Republicans had not held the majority of governorships since 1972 and, more impressively, this was the first time in 50 years that Republicans controlled a majority of state legislatures. Republicans would hold their majority control of the House till the midterm elections in 2006. Their minority status did not last long, however, as the GOP regained the House majority in the 2010 midterm elections.]
SOSEBEE: Yeah, and so I think Gingrich, I think they finally . . .
SHARON: Well that last two years he . . . [unintelligible]
SANDUL: It must have been '98 because he [Gingrich] was leading the charge for the impeachment [of President Bill Clinton] while he [both Gingrich and Clinton] was having the affair.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, so I think it was '98.
SHARON: Yeah, I was trying to think of when Charlie and Newt overlapped.
SOSEBEE: So the two . . .
SANDUL: '94 to '97 [is when the two overlapped while Gingrich was Speaker of the House; otherwise they were both Representatives, overlapping, from 1979 to 1997].
SHARON: But I don't think it was personal. I don't know that they had, any; but it was just what he had done with his, what was it? Contract with America.* [*The "Contract with America" was a political platform released by the Republican Party amid the 1994 midterm elections campaign. The Contract detailed the actions Republicans promised to take if they became the majority party in the House of Representatives. All but two of the Republican members of the House signed it while all of the Party's non-incumbent candidates did. The contract called for shrinking the size of government, lower taxes, transparency, laissez-faire-based loosening of regulations, both tort and welfare reform, and a balanced budget. To view a copy of the "Contract with America" that Newt Gingrich first delivered as a televised speech, visit the University of Kentucky website: http://web.utk.edu/~glenn/GingrichContract.pdf. To view the more formally released "Contract with America," visit the University of Maryland website: http://www.bsos.umd.edu/gvpt/jgloekler/documents/contract.pdf.]
SHARON: But everybody had to speak from the same page regardless.
SHARON: In the party, and he had his thumb on top of everybody and they weren't supposed to hob-knob and certainly not . . .
SOSEBEE: Well that probably did rub him the wrong [way]; you're talking about somebody who is what I like to call, he was truly a "retail politician," who it was, Charlie was, being at home-taking care of the homefolks-that was the most important part of a congressman's job. And here comes Gingrich and they're nationalizing everything and, it probably does completely change the culture of congress.
SAM: Charlie said that it got so, so . . .
SAM: Contentious. That said; he didn't want to get on an elevator with them because he didn't know what they were going to call him [laughter].
SAM: And said you just couldn't talk.
SHARON: It's amazing.
SAM: Said before all of that, said they could argue and then they'd go to lunch together, go out and have a drink together, and they could sit down and talk. And Charlie had a gift that he could, in debating someone, he could say very blunt things that I'd get popped in the mouth for saying.
SOSEBEE: It's a gift.
SAM: And people would not take, people wouldn't take it in the right way.
SHARON: Yeah, a good example of that, honey, I'm glad you brought that up, we have some friends here who . . .
SAM: [Sam laughs] Yeah.
SHARON: . . . the woman's a widow and she's seeing this man who's just the nicest man in the world, very very conservative guy, but a very nice guy. And he had read Charlie's book and he said, "I really want to meet him," and I said, "Well, it's no big deal, next time he's here we'll go to dinner." And so we did and so the guy's a real likeable guy and they were just talking and I don't know, I was . . . across the-he, real right wing-but I was across the table and didn't hear exactly what led up to this but he did say, "Well, I understand what you're saying but the one guy I just couldn't take was Bill Clinton." And Charlie looked at him and said, "Well, did you object to the prosperity or the peace?" [Laughter.]
SOSEBEE: It's a good come back, I need to remember that.
SANDUL: Yeah . . .
SHARON: But the thing about that is, that's a good example of what we were saying, Charlie, the guy did not get mad . . .
SAM: He laughed.
SHARON: Charlie made his point very well and the guy got hysterically tickled and he said, "You got me on that one" [laughing]. . . . But Charlie could be very disarming that way, I mean, and a lot of it, maybe, did you know he was a debater at Annapolis?
SOSEBEE: Uh-huh, that's right, yes, that was . . .
SHARON: And that's where he got a lot of these skills and he was a very gifted debater. I think, wasn't Gene on the debate team too?
SAM: Yeah, I think they were together.
SHARON: He and Gene Woodruff.
SOSEBEE: I think that was, yeah, we definitely need to talk to Gene.
SHARON: Yeah you need to talk to him.
SAM: You do, you really do.
SHARON: I have his contact information; I'll get it for you.
SANDUL: Good, please, yeah . . .
SHARON: And you all have a lot in common, him being a professor [laughs].
SANDUL: And well there we go.
SOSEBEE: Um, I want to just, and I know Paul, maybe after lunch, Paul wants to ask some questions; now this has been so informative and, like I said, we're going to have to come back . . .
SHARON: Well, I don't feel like I've scratched the surface.
SOSEBEE: Uh yeah, that's what I mean, this gives us more to . . .
SANDUL: Okay, can we come back after lunch and continue with some stuff?
SHARON: Sure . . .
SOSEBEE: And I guess maybe we should, maybe, it's 12:20, should we go eat?
SHARON: Yeah we can continue talking during lunch.
SOSEBEE: Sure, sure.
SHARON: I mean, we can visit if you want to.
SHARON: Or do you need to head it off?
SANDUL: Well I was thinking for posterity's sake . . .
SANDUL: . . . within a restaurant it's just a little difficult to . . .
SAM: Yeah it is.
SHARON: Okay, well we can . . .
SANDUL: . . . because of the nightmarish transcription.
SHARON: I see, of course
SANDUL: As I'm sitting down trying to be . . .
SAM: And the banging of plates.
SAM: Let's just go have lunch.
SANDUL: Well, I mean we can still informally have some discussions about it.
SHARON: Yeah, yeah.
SOSEBEE: Let's do that because this . . .
SAM: You failed to introduce Susie [the Allison's family dog].
SHARON: No, well.
SOSEBEE: We did fail to introduce; well we'll go back and correct that.
SANDUL: Well the recorder's still on, we've got Susie [laughs].
SOSEBEE: We now know Susie is here, she's so cute.
SHARON: Isn't she cute?
SOSEBEE: She is . . . we have a dog that is actually a rescue. My mother-in-law, before she passed, rescued a dog that looks a lot like her but; and Sadie is her name, although Susie's bigger, but she, Sadie has got lots of . . . as we like to say, her mother was Lhaso-Apso and we're sure that her father was probably from a good home [laughter].
SAM: Travelling man.
SOSEBEE: Yeah he was a . . .
[The interview pauses for a lunch break]
SANDUL: And this is continuing the interview here with Sharon and Sam in Waco with Scott Sosebee and Paul Sandul.
SAM: And Susie [jingling of collar].
SOSEBEE: And Susie.
SANDUL: And Susie.
SOSEBEE: Susie is here, that's right. I want to get this out, some things we said about lunch, particularly I guess because we do need to talk about the Afghanistan and some of that while we can. You were telling us, go ahead again and recount as we talked about so much of that he couldn't talk about.
SOSEBEE: Because it was so secret. Tell us the story, ya'll were in Pakistan and you didn't even know . . .
SHARON: The reason we were there is, we knew Charlie had been going back and forth to Afghanistan a lot, I mean to Pakistan a lot, and then all of a sudden, Pakistan was knighting Charlie, did ya'll know that? I don't know if you knew that or not but he was knighted and at the time Charlie was divorced and I was listed as his next of kin and so Benazir Bhutto [first and only female prime minister of Pakistan] invited Sam and me to come for the knighting because they always had the close family and so we went and we stayed at the embassy, turned out to be a small world, the people that were, the ambassador and his wife were, had some relatives who were good friends with ours [Sharon Allison and Sosebee laugh]. Anyway, we were there for a long time because they had done this in conjunction with Pakistan Day, which they got every tank, every helicopter, every airplane, and every military person [Sosebee laugh] . . . and they marched them down the street for Pakistan Day. And that was an all day affair. And then the next day was the day that, there's a word for becoming a knight, but I can't remember what it is, but the ceremony, and then we had, the ambassador and his wife had a grand party honoring Charlie and [Sharon Allison laughs] one of the guests was a member of Parliament, he was one of my colleagues on the International Planned Parenthood Board. I mean, it was such a small world . . .
SOSEBEE: Small world.
SHARON: . . . and Pakistan. Who would have thought? And then, the next night, Benazir Bhutto had a lovely thing at the palace for him and, which was dinner and a reception and that kind of thing. And all through this we kept trying to figure out why he had become a knight in Pakistan and it was something.
SAM: C. I.A. guys were all over it.
SHARON: And then these people, and they never said they were in the C. I. A., they just said, "We work for the company." That's code I've learned since. But I didn't know anything about it at the time. And there were people in the embassy who were obviously C. I. A. people too and there were all these meetings and they were being so careful about security and all the meetings were really in the ambassadors home because of less likelihood of bugs and they could kind of have more privacy without working, I don't know. Anyway, but then there was this guy named Milt Bearden [C. I. A. agent, station chief in Pakistan] who was the head of the operation over there.
SANDUL: Yeah. I knew that sounds familiar.
SAM: You've seen him on public television?
SHARON: And then there was, and then there obviously was Gust Avrakotos [C.I.A. agent portrayed in Crile's book, involved in Afghan-Soviet conflict] who is in the movie and they would just appear and all of a sudden they, Charlie and the ambassador, would excuse themselves and they all went off. Well then our airplane, we were flying Pakistani Air, which their government owned, and that's where they'd sent us tickets, but apparently when they didn't have enough people to make a flight cost effective they'd just cancel it. Well it looked like we were going to be living with the ambassador [Sharon Allison and Sosebee laugh]
SOSEBEE: Don't get to go home.
SHARON: And Charlie and his girlfriend were there too and I'm sure that it [Sharon Allison and Sosebee laugh] was strange you know . . . three days. But the ambassador and Charlie, I'm sure, decided that we needed to take this tour. We went in a Russian helicopter to the Khyber Pass [pass linking Pakistan and Afghanistan] and then went to a place called Dhara which is the most, do you know about it?
SANDUL: No, no.
SHARON: It's in the Northwest Territory and it's in that Tora Bora area where they thought [terrorist] Osama Bin Laden was hiding and he probably was for a while. It's all tribal country and when we got to the Northwest Territory boundary, between the Northwest Territory and Pakistan, even though it's legally a part of Pakistan, all of the convoy changed. We had Jeeps with red lights and all that . . . going on. Well they put their Jeeps over to one side and then new Jeeps and the new sirens [Sharon Allison laughs]. But it was so interesting to Sam and me, and then we got into some little tribal village, well we went to Dhara first, which is where they make knockoffs of every kind of weapon you can imagine.
SOSEBEE: [Sosebee laughs] Oh is that right?
SHARON: And Sam knows something about guns. I know nothing. But he walked in and he said, "Is this an AK-47?" And they said, "Yeah." And Sam said, "Does it work?" And they said, "Let's see." He went out on the street and there were these people on scaffolding working across the street and "brrrrrrr [machine gun impression]," they never flinched and their little children down in all those, the Afghan outfits you know, with the hat and the long robes, they looked like little East Texans shelling peas except they were filling up hand grenades with gun powder. It was the wildest place I've ever seen in my life.
SOSEBEE: Oh my God.
SHARON: And then they had these little kiosks out on the street and if they had a dead animal hanging from it, it meant they had drugs that day, heroin that day.
SOSEBEE: [Sosebee laughs] Oh really?
SHARON: And so then we went from there to the head of that tribe that was right outside of Dhara. They invited us for tea. And we went over there and sat on the floor, table, and they brought out shish kabobs and all kinds. These poor women were back there working themselves to death [Sosebee laughs]. On the spur of the moment, here come these strangers for tea. Tea. But anyway, the whole thing, and Sam and I said that something's going on, and Charlie, usually he was very open about things but he was very closed mouth and I just, you know, you know better sometime than to ask questions. And it finally came out with Gust Avrakotos that he was in the C. I. A. and he kind of took charge of us. There was also a guy named Rooney, what's Rooney's first name?
SAM: Jim Rooney.
SHARON: Jim Rooney who was a Colonel at the time in the Army? And his job in the Army was to travel with [Representative] Ted Kennedy and Charlie Wilson and keep them out of trouble [Sosebee laughs]. He was the neatest guy, we really enjoyed him and after hours . . .
SAM: He's now deceased.
SHARON: Now deceased. He would be a wonderful resource for you but he died last year too. But he, in fact, he bought Charlie's apartment from him . . .
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: . . . when he left Washington. But anyway, Jim and Charlie and Gust and I became, I mean, Jim and Gust and Sam and I really became buddies. And we ended up many late nights talking in to the night about everything and we . . .
SOSEBEE: So he finally told you?
SHARON: Uh [no], well.
SAM: No. Not really.
SHARON: Well, we knew. I mean, we knew. He works for the company [C.I.A.].
SAM: We knew something was up.
SHARON: And everybody was very . . .
SOSEBEE: But you probably didn't know the whole scope, I mean . . .
SHARON: Oh we had no idea.
SAM: No, no, we had no clue.
SHARON: But, when it all started coming together was at the end, you know, when everybody was getting frantic about are we ever going to get out of here? You know, to get home, to jobs and all the things you get home to and ambassador [Sharon Allison laughs] . . . to himself, I'm sure. But they talked to the Pakistani airlines and they loaned them some seats inside of the airplane and there was a . . .
SHARON: . . . one thirty, a C-one, thirty that had brought over bombs . . .
SHARON: . . . to drop on Jalalabad and the first stingers.
SOSEBEE: Oh, is that right?
SHARON: And so that plane was going back empty, back wherever, I don't know where it came from. It had no numbers on it so Sam said, "This is a C. I. A. plane." I wouldn't have noticed when the airplane's supposed to have tail numbers or not but he did and it didn't have any numbers on it, he said, "This is a C. I. A. plane." And sure enough it was.
SOSEBEE: So you knew something was going on.
SHARON: And also then . . .
SAM: Knew they were getting us out of Pakistan.
SHARON: They knew that here there were, four of us on the plane as passengers and two pilots, and they had come in and it was something, literally, you carry bombs around in, not a passenger plane, it wasn't pressurized or anything; but they brought Army cots on board so that we could go to sleep if we wanted to. And they brought this young C. I. A. guy that had just gotten out of Quantico and had been sent over there, he still had braces on his teeth, he looked like he was about twenty-one [Sosebee laughs] and nicest guy you could ever imagine, but he said, "Y'all are going to have to tell me what to do, there wasn't anything in my training about being a flight attendant but that's what I am, so y'all tell me when you want something" [laughter].
SAM: He said, "at Quantico . . . "
SHARON: And we had-that was a clue too; he had been trained at Quantico-and they had this bathroom that was the pilots', which was a toilet, period, and they had gone and bought some kind of little curtain and put around it. I mean it was the most interesting plane ride you could imagine.
SOSEBEE: I bet so.
SHARON: And we went from there to Cairo in that.
SHARON: And there was some . . .
SAM: Landed in Saudi Arabia.
SHARON: Yeah, landed in Saudi Arabia.
SAM: And Sharon got to . . .
SHARON: I learned my place in a hurry. They came around passing tea at the airport in the V. I. P. lounge and I reached over and got a little cup of tea and I thought that man was going to fall flat on the floor he was so horrified that I would have the nerve. I mean I was a woman for God's sake. And in a minute the ambassador's assistant in Saudi Arabia came up and said, "I'm so embarrassed but you all can't be in the V. I. P. room." He said, "They've opened up a little room down the hall and you an Analise are going to have to go sit there." So I said, "Whatever" [Sharon Allison laughs]. But you learn in a hurry and that's; and he went down and sat with us and he was telling us women couldn't drive, this that and the other, and that was back what, in '89, and I mean I don't think the world knew.
SOSEBEE: I don't think it's changed.
SHARON: No, no, obviously. This week it's been all over the news but it was; I've never learned as much on any trip as I learned on that one, just everything that was going on.
SOSEBEE: I guess it's that he could keep it . . .
SHARON: Totally new experiences. But after the C. I. A. plane, the C.I. A. flight attendant and Gust Avarkotos, he and Jim Rooney though, Jim was not in the C. I. A., but Gust definitely was, but we spent several days in Cairo on the way back and Sam and Gust had really gotten tight by this time and went off together and Sam said, "He is a guy you do not want to ever cross" [laughter]. Sam changed some money in a bank one day and they were ignoring the Americans in the line and finally he [Gust] went up and slapped his hand down on the counter and leaned across the counter, and he had steely blue eyes, and said, "You will help us or I'm going to do something real ugly on your mother's grave" [Sosebee laughs].
SAM: That isn't what he said.
SHARON: That isn't what he said, but . . .
SOSEBEE: I'm sure, yeah.
SAM: And I mean it got silent.
SHARON: Well I mean . . .
SAM: . . . and they had these guys standing around guarding the bank with machine guns.
SHARON: Sam said they were served immediately.
SAM: . . . and they were all jabbering to each other and when his hand came down on the counter . . .
SHARON: Very intimidating.
SAM: . . . they all turned around and looked and nobody moved to stop him and when we went to leave, they changed my money real quickly and suddenly spoke English and, as we opened the door going out, we hear, "[imitating Arabic]," they all started back.
SOSEBEE: They all started talking again.
SHARON: But Gust was something else.
SAM: He's just a guy, he wasn't imposing.
SHARON: And . . .
SAM: But he had a look about him that you just better not mess with him.
SOSEBEE: I've seen people like that.
SHARON: It was a fascinating trip.
SAM: [Phone rings in the background] I'll get that.
SOSEBEE: I mean, to me it's always that he was trying to keep all, this was done [answering machine picks up] so secretly that, I don't know, it doesn't make sense to be, but you said he was here and this went on for quite a long time [Sam picks up phone and says, "hello."] and you had no inkling that he was . . .
SHARON: [Sighs] I just didn't think about it a lot. Charlie go involved before that with the situation in Nicaragua, which was, I mean, we were on separate sides of that issue. I kind of liked sending . . . [laughter] they were all about women's issues so a lot of women got involved. But he was, that's kind of where he [phone rings] and that's how he got by with it was because Reagan was so . . .
SAM: [Interrupts] What is Lakeland West?
SHARON: I don't know honey.
SAM: I don't either.
SHARON: [Answering machine picks up] Reagan was so concentrated on Nicaragua and Simosa and all that at the time that he really wasn't . . . .
SAM: [Answers phone] Hello.
SHARON: He wasn't a detail person, getting down in the trenches with issues so that's, I don't think you could ever with the press now.
SOSEBEE: You don't think, this just couldn't happen.
SHARON: This couldn't happen again, I really don't. It was just a perfect storm.
SOSEBEE: What were his, after the current wars over there started, what was his comments about some of that situation going on?
SHARON: Well Charlie was never an "I told you so" person.
SOSEBEE: But he did in that situation, I mean he didn't say that.
SHARON: Not too much, I mean he didn't say it like that.
SOSEBEE: But he warned us.
SHARON: But he really, really had tried to get a Marshall-type plan through . . . and it might have made a difference.* [*In March 1947 President Harry S. Truman gave a speech to Congress about what became known as the "Truman Doctrine," i.e., support for fighting against communist expansion and regimes. That summer, General George C. Marshall, Truman's Secretary of State, announced details of what became known as the Marshall Plan, or the European Recovery Program (ERP). Marshall offered American financial aid for European economic recovery, especially to stave off Soviet and communist influence in a region still recovering from war and to help bolster the regional economy so that Western Europe could more robustly participate in a global economy. On April 3, 1948, Truman signed the first appropriation bill authorizing $5.3 billion the first year of the ERP. By 1951 industrial production in Western Europe had successfully grown 30 per cent since the beginning of World War II. The program came to an end on December 31, 1951. In its three year existence, the ERP spent almost $12.5 billion. Hence, the analogy to the Marshall Plan here refers to a desire to stabilize and strengthen Afghanistan by investing capital to insure development and growth, particularly for favorable geo-political gain. Charlie Wilson, and others, openly lamented this did not occur following Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and detrimentally so.]
SHARON: But nobody could have foreseen, I mean, I guess somebody could have foreseen it, he did not foresee that the Mujahideen was going to become the Taliban.* [* Admittedly, since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, conflicting interpretations exist about defining terms, or groups of people, like Mujahedeen and Taliban. To illuminate what is being said, simple definitions help. In Arabic, Mujahedeen (or Mujahideen) translates as a Muslim warrior engaged in jihad. For this passage, Mujahedeen more narrowly represents a group of people, mostly in Afghanistan, fighting against the USSR in the Soviet-Afghanistan War. While not monolithic, they are best understood as a group of guerrilla warriors fighting the Soviets whom Wilson sought to aid. As for the Taliban, according to the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, "The Taliban is a radically militant Islamic movement that controlled some 90 per cent of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. The Taliban emerged from their base in Kandahar in southwestern Afghanistan in reaction to the lawlessness caused by infighting between rival Mujahedeen forces in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The Taliban's declared aims included the restoration of peace, rigid enforcement of Islamic law, disarming the population, and defending the Islamic character of Afghanistan." The Taliban is not synonymous with the Mujahedeen or Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden. Still, the Mujahedeen fighters became the backbone for the Taliban and, especially in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda. Indeed, as the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences states, "Al-Qaeda's administrative and recruitment foundation sprang from the associations of Muslim warriors (mujahideen) that had formed in the early 1980s to fight the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan. These fighters later became the backbone of Al-Qaeda's forces." In this line, then, the implication is that Wilson, in his dogged support of the Mujahedeen, could not have foreseen that they would fuel the rise of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. Moreover, in Allison's statement above about the Marshall-like Plan, she contends that Wilson wanted to guard against groups like the Taliban by providing Afghanis economic and structural aid, i.e., to guard against the rise of radical Islam in Afghanistan. See, "Al-Qaeda," International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edited by William A. Darity, Jr., 2nd ed., Vol. 1 (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2008), 86; and "Taliban," International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 262-63.]
SOSEBEE: Yeah, but I mean, and after the war started and all these things, did he, I mean, he never tried to offer any advice or intercede . . .
SHARON: I don't know, I don't know, I don't know.
SOSEBEE: In the people who are running things, I mean, I don't know, did he have no relationship, I guess, with [President] George W. Bush? Was there no relationship whatsoever?
SHARON: Charlie always said he kind of liked him as a person, but not that kind of a relationship, they didn't exchange phone calls, or to my knowledge.
SOSEBEE: But so, nobody ever called him . . .
SHARON: I don't know . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . and said, "Hey, what do you think?" Because this is a man who spent a lot of time over there . . .
SHARON: [Sighs] I don't know . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . who understood that culture. I would just, to me, maybe I'm projecting, if I'm the President at that time and I know a person that I know has this kind of knowledge, I'd have picked up the phone and called them and said, "What do you think?"
SAM: If he did we don't know.
SHARON: We don't know [in unison with Sam]. We don't know it. And Charlie said, more than once to me that it was a culture that he didn't think any westerner could ever truly understand.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: He said it's something that they have, have you ever read Lay Down With the Lions?* [* Ken Follet, Lie Down with Lions (New York: Morrow, 1986). Lie Down with Lions is a spy novel (also movie) that follows the story of an Englishwoman caught in a romantic triangle between rival spies, as the action moves between Britain, France, and amid guerilla warfare in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War.]
SOSEBEE: No, I haven't.
SHARON: That's an interesting; it's not a new book, who wrote it? Somebody that wrote a bunch of those books.
SAM: Oh, I remember reading it, but very good book.
SHARON: It is a book. It's really a guy book. It's a page turner and it's a book about Afghan- a lot of it's about Afghanistan. It's been so long since I've read it but Charlie told me to read it at the time, he said, "You might get a little bit of a feeling of how they feel about a little . . . worthless looking parcel of land" and it's something that's in their culture and inbred into them that we don't get and if you try to, and that's why they were so fierce, in Charlie's view, so fierce against the Russians when they had no weapons, they were these little kids throwing rocks at Russian tanks and that underdog business . . .
SOSEBEE: Yeah, I was going to say.
SHARON: . . . that really did, that really did engage Charlie when that stuff started coming into his, yeah, I'm sure you've heard this before but that just started coming in, what were those things called before fax machines and that you used in your office?
SHARON: Teletypes. And Charlie would just pick them up and look at them and think "Good grief!" And, you know, Russia was our big enemy end of the Cold War and he thought these people needed some help, and that's how it all started. I mean he had no clue what it was going to get into. It was this, "We need to get them some help."
SOSEBEE: Yeah, and so it was just like the underdog. like you said . . .
SHARON: I mean, it's that mentality and I could see that engaging him.
SOSEBEE: This may sound a little hokey . . .
SHARON: No, no, I get hokey.
SOSEBEE: But I want to get, I get this stuff . . .
SHARON: I'm pretty hokey [Sharon Allison laughs].
SOSEBEE: If you would just give us, just give everybody . . . if you're going to describe Charlie in just a few words, to get to the heart of his personality, how would you do it? Like if it's one sentence.
SHARON: Bon vivant [French for "one who enjoys the good life"], larger than life, kind, loving, smart. What are your impressions [to Sam]?
SHARON: Generous, very generous.
SOSEBEE: Which, all this sounds much like what, you know, I think that shapes his career, I think that you could take every one of those and say, "Okay." . . . Could he be, was he a stubborn man?
SAM: Yeah, yeah. He and I used to talk about that.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SAM: Yeah, cause I never could change his mind.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: Nor could he change yours much [laughter].
SOSEBEE: So both of you were a little stubborn.
SHARON: They're a lot, Charlie and Sam seemed so unlikely to be the best buddies that they were, I mean Charlie could talk to Sam about anything and vice versa, and they did.
SAM: Stock Market would go down and he'd call me at the office and he'd say, "Blank blankhousen, what are you doing to that market?" [Sosebee laughs].
SHARON: Well, "It's all my fault."
SOSEBEE: You personally caused it to go down.
SAM: "Sorry Charlie, I had a bad breakfast" [Sosebee laughs].
SHARON: Charlie was so funny. This is a change of subject totally but it's kind of his personality and, I mean, this is just so typical. But back when we were all young and he was in the legislator and in Lufkin and he had been introduced to the stock market, and I don't mean he was a big player, he never had any money, but he had bought some stock, but he was going to buy some and it's always been Sam's hobby and part of his vocation as well, but he calls Sam and says, "I'm getting in the stock market now tell me what I do. Do I go down to the stock store and get two blues and a yellow?" [Laughter.] And that was just typical of his personality.
SOSEBEE: That's kind of; I might do the same thing because I don't understand any of that either, of course I, what we [gesturing to Sandul], do for a living we don't have worry about having any money so.
SHARON: Well I mean, they're petty stocks [Sharon Allison laughs] but I mean it's just, he was just so funny and he knew he was being funny.
SOSEBEE: Well sure. Some of his greatest successes, and was earliest in his career, for example, the Big Thicket* and the role he played with that. You mentioned that Charlie wasn't a fisherman, he wasn't a hunter but you said your father was. [* Congress passed legislation that created Big Thicket National Preserve in 1974, establishing the first national preserve in the National Park System. The Big Thicket is nearest Beaumont in southeast Texas. While no exact boundaries exist, the area occupies much of Hardin County, Liberty, Tyler, San Jacinto, and Polk Counties and is roughly bounded by the San Jacinto River, Neches River, and Pine Island Bayou.]
SHARON: Yes. And Charlie loved the outdoors, he loved nature. He just didn't want to, that was part of his soft heartedness, he always would say he couldn't understand anybody killing an animal nor, he'd say, "If you're gonna get that fish in the mouth and pull it in," he said, "that's gotta hurt" [laughter]. Part of it was his being so empathetic to animals.
SOSEBEE: But, they were talking about, and I always found this, I think it's this Texan and being in the region you understand, getting the Big Thicket declared as this national protection . . .
SHARON: That was a big deal.
SOSEBEE: . . . that was a big thing. And I mean you're talking as a freshman congressman, his first year, who's, you know freshman congressmen's not supposed to know how do things like this. Ralph Yarborough* had been trying to do this for years and couldn't get it done. Charlie gets it done in his first term in congress. [*Ralph Webster "Smilin' Ralph" Yarborough, was a United States senator and leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in Texas from 1957-70. See, Mark Odintz, "YARBOROUGH, RALPH WEBSTER," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/ articles/fyags), published by the Texas State Historical Association.]
SHARON: That comes from our mother as senior problem solver. Get the problem and you figure out how to do it. And I don't know if y'all, are y'all talking to Jim Wright? [*James Claude Wright, Jr. (born December 22, 1922), known as Jim Wright (D-TX), served in the US House of Representatives for Texas's 12th District (Ft. Worth area) from 1955 till 1989 when he resigned. He was the House Majority Leader from 1977-1987 and Speaker of the House from 1987 to 1989.]
SOSEBEE: We want to. It's kind of, it's his health.
SHARON: Is he ill?
SOSEBEE: You know he had the stroke and he's . . .
SHARON: Well he doesn't, he was still calling Charlie. I don't know how his health is and I don't . . .
SOSEBEE: It's not real good right now.
SHARON: But he would be wonderful to talk to because he always said Charlie was the best backroom politician he'd ever known . . .
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: . . . as far as getting things done and, but he, Charlie really didn't care about a big, well maybe he did, but he didn't seem to care about having a reputation as a high-profile congressman, he had it maybe for [Sharon Allison laughs] other reasons.
SHARON: But he really liked getting things like that done and figured out that if you didn't get a lot of publicity about it, you didn't have the other side dig in. Am I making sense?
SOSEBEE: No and I, I just wondered, I mean . . .
SHARON: And it worked that way because if somebody was on the other side of an issue and they are even competitive with you in some ways, if you were getting a lot of attention for it, they wouldn't want you to get it done.
SHARON: And Charlie was very smart on things like that.
SOSEBEE: Do you think that that might be, this thought just came to me, I don't know, maybe it's not, he didn't run from, for lack of a better term, the "Good Time Charlie" image.
SHARON: He kind of liked it, it was kind of that bad boy image he had of himself.
SOSEBEE: And he kind . . . but do you think that if my image is "Good Time Charlie," that I'm not really that serious, that helps me get . . .
SAM: They'll underestimate you.
SOSEBEE: They'll underestimate you and it helps me get things done, and it helps me with deals.
SHARON: Oh, he played that.
SOSEBEE: And you think he knew that for sure.
SHARON: Oh absolutely, oh sure he did.
SAM: But then again, he, when he was put on the-I believe it was the foreign operations committee-well the first thing he did was go out to Georgetown and enroll in night classes to learn about . . .
SOSEBEE: Is that right? Now that's fascinating. How many congressmen would do that?
SOSEBEE: None that I could think of that would actually go out and do that. So he enrolled to learn more. That says a lot.
SAM: Then he read every book he could find on; Charlie's a voracious reader.
SOSEBEE: What was his, talk to us a little about his relationship with Tip O'Neill [Congressman and Speaker of the House], because it was a pretty, it was a good relationship, they could butt heads occasionally, but Tip took care of him sometimes.
SHARON: Oh Tip loved him and he loved him. And Tip O'Neill even came down to a fundraiser for Charlie back, oh in the early days of Congress. Charlie; have you heard about this?
SOSEBEE: I just know that he was there, I have no detail.
SHARON: There was a fundraiser in the Woodlands, which is the most right-wing place that was in his district at the time and it had been a result of some redistricting and, so anyway, it was kind of Charlie's nemesis and so he, there were about thirteen congressmen that came I think, and Tip O'Neill was, of course, the star. And I'll never forget, Charlie did not put on airs, I mean he was a bon fi monde [phonetic French] but it was all real [Sharon Allison and Sosebee laugh] but there was, for the people who, it was a fundraising weekend for people that gave a certain amount of money. There was a brunch on Sunday that just, they were invited to and it was called, instead of a V. I. P. brunch, it was the Big Shot Brunch,[Sharon Allison laughs]. I mean, that's Charlie.
SOSEBEE: Yes, well we, you know, our Democrats, we can't say V. I. P.
SHARON: But anyway, that's what it was. And so after the Big Shot Brunch, the congressmen were all going to the Houston Airport, which you know, it wasn't that far from the Woodlands, and his, Linda, Linda was his, not Chief of Staff, but she was the main woman in the office and . . .
SAM: She was the office manager.
SHARON: Office manager and she had, I'll never forget it, we were standing out there talking as they were all getting into their cars to go back to Washington, and there's a pecking order, which I didn't understand, of course O'Neill had to be in the first car, and then at the same token you've got these thirteen congressmen in terms of their tenure, but that's the order their cars [Sharon Allison laughs]. So she got them all done and the last one was in the car and she looked at me and she said, "Thank God I've gotten those assholes airborne" [laughter].
SOSEBEE: That's . . .
SHARON: You don't have to put that in there.
SOSEBEE: No but that's, yeah, but . . .
SHARON: I mean that was a quote and I just cracked up. But, you know, it seems so silly, I mean you're going to the airport, why don't you all get in a cab, go [Sharon Allison laughs] I mean just . . .
SAM: I got to play golf with Tip.
SOSEBEE: Did you really? Everybody that's ever . . .
SAM: Good guy.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, that's, they all say, that everybody that ever met him talks about what a nice person he was and as we were talking about . . .
SHARON: Well, he was one of those Boston Irishmen.
SOSEBEE: Sure, sure.
SHARON: Just the quintessential.
SOSEBEE: But he, and I guess as you say, he looked out for him. You're talking about, for example, the Nicaragua situation, now they didn't see eye to eye on that.
SHARON: No, you know the story of mother and that?
SOSEBEE: Now you've got to tell us.
SHARON: Well, Charlie was going to Nicaragua pretty regularly and the Sandinistas said the next time he comes, he's going home in a body bag.
SAM: They put that . . .
SHARON: And that was in the Houston Chronicle, and mother read it and mother gets on the phone, I mean we're from Trinity, we don't know about all this protocol and all this stuff and she's a get it done person, she gets on the phone and calls Tip O'Neill and gets through to him answering the phone [Sosebee laughs] and she says, "Mr. O'Neill, you just can't let Little Charles go back down there." And she read him the clip in the paper and it went on and on and on and he said, "Yes ma'am, I hear you, he's not going back." Well Charlie was planning to go the next day. Tip O'Neill called him and said, "Charlie, you're not going to Nicaragua." He said, "Well, yes, I've got my tickets, everything's planned, I'm meeting with these people" and blah, blah, blah. He said, "No you're not going, I don't have time to talk to your mother an hour on the phone [laughter] and I promised her to get her off the phone that you weren't going." And he said, "But Mr. Speaker," he said, "Charlie if you want to stay on the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees you're not going." He quit [Sharon Allison laughs]. He knew Charlie loved that because it's a cheap date.
SOSEBEE: Yeah that's right because, it was, yeah I've heard that. I think it was [Charlie's second Administrative Assistant, Charles] Schnabel that told me that he, that was, if there was one committee or assignment that he'd lobby for like you wouldn't believe it was to be on the Kennedy Center because then he could take his girlfriend to the Kennedy Center.
SHARON: Cheap date.
SOSEBEE: And always have a seat and it didn't cost him anything.
SHARON: That's right.
SOSEBEE: And it's impressive.
SHARON: And Charlie loved the performing arts. I remember one time when we were visiting Charlie and we, he was on the, he had tickets, so I guess he was on the board then and, you know, Sam's a good old Texas boy and he's not in to modern ballet and this is really, Goldberg's Variations was the name of the ballet that night, it wasn't even a traditional ballet.
SAM: Goldberg and . . .
SOSEBEE: Nobody from Wichita Falls wants to watch anything like that.
SAM: That's right.
SHARON: And so anyway we get to it, but he got in there because he said, Charlie, "Sam I've got tickets to Charlie Pride in concert." So Sam's all ready and here we are sitting there and [Sharon Allison laughs] out come the, all the men in their leotards.
SAM: And their faces painted.
SHARON: And their faces painted real strangely and Sam leaned over and he looked and said, [whispering] "Wilson, you're a son of a bitch" [Sosebee and Sharon Allison laugh]. And all these little old ladies in their pearls were looking around.
SOSEBEE: Oh my.
SHARON: So they had that kind of relationship.
SOSEBEE: Well this is great. Paul [Sandul] did you have something that you need to, that you wanted to ask? To add?
SANDUL: Well, I was curious, speaking as his sister whose first word may have been "Charles," how have you felt over the years about the image and the media's attention, particularly after the movie too and the book, how do you feel about "Good Time Charlie?" Speaking as a sister and, maybe, how did mother feel about it?
SHARON: Mother, by the time that image was in the press that much, mother had dementia and really didn't ever really get it, which I was very grateful for. I came to terms with it long ago and I mean it really bothered me at first but it was who Charlie was and he never, I mean our relationship never changed. And Charlie was always the person that brought excitement to your life, even, I mean not because of his, that's just who he was. I remember when I was ten-years old and gave me my first Brownie Hawkeye Camera [popular low cost camera made by Kodak] he always knew what would really, you know, set you off and he always; he gave young Sam, one year for Christmas a, it was always exciting to see what Charlie's Christmas gifts were going to be, and he gave him a, what do you call those things you look at the stars? A telescope.
SHARON: And they, I mean Charlie, was just always somebody that was fun and knew what would be fun and special to you and he was always that really special person and I got past the other, and he was just still my brother. If that makes any sense.
SOSEBEE: Makes perfect sense to me.
SHARON: It's something that bothered me more early on and I was worried about him and what he was doing to himself. He wasn't worried about it so I said, "Why should I?" But I did, and I, what I really worried about was [unintelligible over background noise]
SOSEBEE: Well did he get to the point, I mean, like I said that there was . . .
SHARON: Not from my stand point but from a [unintelligible] stand point.
SOSEBEE: But, I mean, did he get to the point. Was there ever the situation where you, those of you that were closest to him really said, "[unintelligible] you're drinking too much"? Or did it not ever, or has that been exaggerated?
SHARON: No it hadn't been exaggerated.
SANDUL: But how much of the "Good Time Charlie" stuff is something that's just been way overblown, I mean to extreme levels. How much of it's real, or somewhat real?
SHARON: He drank way too much, especially during, I think it had weighed on him, especially all that Afghan; I mean it was serious stuff. I mean any time you're involved in a war people are, and I know, and Charlie was somebody that you could see, zero in on, he made some comments that did really bother me during that time and part of it was probably alcohol related but during that time I remember he was on a high with the Stinger being so successful and he said something about, "I want them to kill as many Russians as poss-, as painfully as possible."
SAM: Said that on 60 Minutes.
SHARON: And I said, "Charlie please don't ever, ever say that again." And he said, "Well [unintelligible over background noise]." And I said, "Think about-," at the time young Sam was about eighteen, Charlie's always absolutely adored his nephew and his niece, and I said, "Those are somebody's nephews and children." I said, "We're not talking about big Russian bears, we're talking about people and kids and you don't want them dying as painfully as possible." He never said it again. But that kind of thing is what bothered me, the fact that he was, he wasn't, in the papers, he was single when he was doing all the carousing with women. I didn't particularly, it wouldn't have been women I would have picked [Sharon Allison laughs].
SOSEBEE: That's one of the things that I think nobody every points out . . .
SHARON: I mean he wasn't.
SOSEBEE: . . . when they start talking about this, he was a single man.
SHARON: Mmh-hmm [yes]. And as far as I know, Charlie never hit on a married woman, that was one of his real, as far as I know [Sharon Allison laughs], as far as I know, that was one of his real rules.
SOSEBEE: He was a good Methodist.
SHARON: No he wasn't [Sosebee laughs]. Not as far as following rules, no he wasn't. But I don't know, I don't . . .
SOSEBEE: Well, I think we've kept y'all long enough this time.
SHARON: Well, we gave y'all the day and we're happy to do it.
SOSEBEE: And, but we, but we want to come back and like I said, do it again, because we want to get . . .
SHARON: Think of what you want. If you want to send me some things you really want and I'll think it through and think about things to tell you.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, and maybe we do that and do the same with you Sam and things that we might get to and we can formulate, now that we have this first interview, more questions because we're getting, actually I'm thinking the whole time you're answering questions, I'm thinking, man this is something that look, if I'm doing some political biography of Charlie I can get, these are some things that I can do a lot of things with and I want to do more things like this, so yeah, we want to do something like that.
SANDUL: Yeah, definitely.
SOSEBEE: In the next . . .
SHARON: Some more what? Oh, just interviewing.
SOSEBEE: Since you've interviewed, I'm saying, some of the things we go with you can do, this getting to the soul of the person if you want to . . .
SHARON: Well we were extraordinarily close.
SAM: They were.
SHARON: We were probably the closest, I probably was the closest person to Charlie over a long period of time. I mean, I had him for sixty-seven years.
SAM: When he was having his real alcohol problems and things were getting tense and low, well, really, I think the only person he cared about, that he cared what they thought, was Sharon and he would call here and it kind of became big sister and little brother during that period.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, yeah.
SAM: And . . .
SHARON: That was a tough time.
SAM: He was always seeking her . . .
SHARON: I was worried to death about him.
SAM: . . . seeking her approval of something during that period
SOSEBEE: Yeah. It well, I guess.
SHARON: His office people called me all the time.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: Oh yeah, and would say, "Can, you know, we're at our wits end [Sharon Allison laughs], please help."
SAM: Say it's not going to be as bad as the press, it's not as bad as the press is going to say.
SHARON: Or they would just call me to say, "Can you talk to him? We need some help." Because he was self destructive at a time.
SOSEBEE: Is that right? And do you think that was a lot, there was the pressure of course of what's going on . . .
SHARON: There was and he was alone, that's when he was divorced and you know that was a lot to go home and live with and he drank too much, that's kind of where the drinking got out of hand, I think.
SOSEBEE: Now later after this, he did, did he completely stop drinking?
SHARON: No, he didn't drink the last eleven years of his life . . .
SOSEBEE: That's what I was . . .
SHARON: I never saw him drink a drop.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SHARON: And Charlie was totally honest about things like that.
SOSEBEE: And did he just quit cold turkey?
SHARON: He did. He did.
SOSEBEE: That's pretty strong.
SHARON: Well he was very scared he was going to, the cardiologist made it very clear to him that if he didn't stop drinking that cardiomyopathy was going to get him sooner rather than later.
SOSEBEE: Is that right? So it was, yeah, even then . . .
SHARON: And he loved life.
SOSEBEE: Well that's become very obvious, is what it has, yeah. Your hospitality has been unbelievable .
SHARON: Oh! Well we're delighted.
SOSEBEE: You know.
SHARON: I think you all will be very fair to him.
SOSEBEE: Well we're going to do every-we're going to do like we said . . .
SHARON: I can tell.
SOSEBEE: We're going to do other things, we're going to have . . .
SHARON: He wasn't perfect but . . .
SOSEBEE: We were going to have a symposium on his life on the anniversary of his death.
SHARON: Yeah, I think Peyton contacted me about that and asked me to speak?